Two-way downtown streets (copy)

A city rendering presented at a meeting last year shows Washington Avenue converted to two-way traffic with parking on both sides and separated bike lanes on one side. The city’s cost estimate for the project, set to go to bid next month, has increased from $2.9 million to $4.5 million, the city council learned Tuesday.

The city cost estimate for the conversion of Washington Avenue to a two-way street with bike lanes and better sidewalks has increased by about $1.5 million.

The estimate is up from $2.9 million to $4.5 million, city council members learned during their meeting Tuesday. The bulk of the money for the project, which the council approved about a year ago and is set to go to bid next month, will come from the streets budget.

Council members said they are still in favor of the project but questioned the increased cost.

“This (fluctuation) is a trend we’re seeing across all of our projects,” Councilman Dillon Meek said.

Jim Reed, city of Waco capital improvement program manager, told the council some of the increased costs came from sidewalk and drainage work and some came from the cost of sidewalk improvements necessary under the Americans with Disabilities Act . He said the project will also require the city to remove old driveways that now lead nowhere.

“It’s a case of the times that we live in,” Reed said. “We try to do a good job, especially with utilities … especially when you get into amenities like sidewalk.”

Increasingly unpredictable

Jacob Bell, a client manager for Walker Partners, said the variation in price depends on contractors’ interest in each project, and has become increasingly unpredictable.

“One month, we’ll bid something and it will come back significantly under-budget. The next, the project will be over,” Bell said. “It seems like it’s just depending on when it’s hitting the contractors and how hungry they are and their schedule. That’s made it very difficult.”

Work on curbs that was not anticipated at the start of the project also contributed to the higher estimate, Bell said.

The bike lanes will be sectioned off from the main lanes with striping from 18th Street to 11th Street. Raised dividers with landscaping will separate the bike lanes from the main lanes from 11th Street to University Parks Drive.

Much of the street will have parallel on-street parking, but the conversion will leave less room for on-street parking between Fifth and Third streets.

Work is expected to start in early summer and wrap up in late April or early May 2021.

“First off, we want to give the contractor the opportunity to develop his own traffic control plans,” Bell said.

Bell said lanes will close one by one, and traffic will continue to flow during construction.

“There may be an occasional closure, but … for 99 percent of the project it should be open,” Bell said.

Councilman John Kinnaird asked if converting the roadway would impede traffic flow. Reed said while there have been traffic studies done for the project, he was not involved with them.

“I think for a two-way we will have capacity,” Reed said. “When you go from a four-lane one way to a two-way, some people will start to use a different road.”

Councilman Hector Sabido asked if other projects would be delayed to cover the increased cost of the Washington Avenue conversion.

“If there are going to be other projects put on hold, I would love to be kept in the loop on that,” Sabido said.

Texas Anti-Gang program

Also Tuesday, the city council gave Waco Police Department the green light to apply for more funding from the Texas Anti-Gang program. The department received $1.5 million from the same program last year for its effort to construct, staff and operate a multi-agency Texas Anti-Gang Center.

Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt said the facility is slated for completion in September. Construction documents for the project will go out toward the end of February, and construction will take about five months.

Agencies ranging from local game wardens to the Department of Homeland Security would operate out of the center.

“Everybody will be co-located in one house, so to speak, so you feel a little bit of accountability to each other,” Holt said. “Just like we’ve seen some multi-agency operations recently, we’ll just be leveraging that same concept in the same location.”

District 1 Councilwoman Andrea Barefield asked Holt what the focus of the center will be once it is complete.

Holt said the center will mostly focus on gang activity, but the center’s scope would include violent crimes and narcotics trafficking in general.

“That’s one of the things that has continued to challenge Waco, so you know you have my full support on that,” Barefield said. “All we can do is work together to close the circle on that.”

Holt said funding from the new application would be used to buy office furniture, equipment and supplies for the center. Holt said the department is asking for a crime analyst to be assigned to the center.

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